LETTER: Dry conditions expected through to next winter

Updated operational planning for the Murray River has sharpened focus on the potential for dry conditions to continue through to winter 2019.

While we had a small amount of rain in August, things were unusually dry in July and September, which is typically when the system receives most of its rainfall.

We will continue to plan for all scenarios, including very wet conditions, but this update reflects the greater possibility that dry or very dry scenarios will eventuate.

We have been transferring water to Lake Victoria during spring to improve its storage in preparation for the demands of summer, however, under dry scenarios we will look to target a volume less than 350 gigalitres, half its capacity, by the end of May 2019.

We are conscious, however, that if conditions remain dry there is the possibility that demand will reduce as water entitlement holders with an allocation will elect to carry over some of their water to the next year.

Another key change in the update was the ability to use Murray Irrigation Limited canals to deliver water downstream of Barmah Choke, where the narrowing of the river limits the volume of water that can pass through.

We are keenly aware of the difficult times many people are facing due to the drought. This access helps us to reduce the risk of a shortfall in water delivery during times of peak irrigation demand.

Environmental water holders have so far used less water than they would in an average year, in part because the usual overbank flows in the Barmah-Millewa forest caused by winter rain did not eventuate and as a result there was no natural event to extend. 

Looking forward, there is the possibility for more environmental water to be used but this will depend on system capacity and the environmental priorities that are identified.

We urge everyone who uses water to plan ahead for all scenarios, including the possibility that conditions stay dry and allocations do not improve. None of us know with certainty how much water we’ll have in storage at the end of the season – that depends on how much it rains.

Andrew Reynolds, 

Murray Darling Basin Authority (MDBA) 

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